Nikola Jokic couldn’t define an MVP, so his Nuggets teammates did it for him
NBA 

Three minutes into Tuesday night’s game against the Thunder, the Nuggets were sluggish. Their defense was sloppy, and Oklahoma City’s early lead seemed to portend another questionable effort for a team that badly needed a win.

Nikola Jokic sensed it.

He got second-year forward Isaiah Roby on his right hip, pivoted hard toward the baseline and launched himself into thin air. Jokic topped off the two-handed jam with a gravity-defying chin up, a signature finishing move that’s as funny as it is intentional.

“I like the excitement that the guys have on the bench when I dunk,” he said after the Nuggets’ 119-101 win over the Thunder. “So I dunk for them. I’m joking.”

Baked somewhere inside of Jokic’s deadpan humor lies some kernel of truth. He knows the perception and stereotypes that hound him even as he builds the foundations to an MVP campaign. With nine dunks so far in 14 games, Jokic is on pace to shatter his previous career-high of 26 during the 2016-’17 season.

At 25.1 points, 11.4 rebounds and 10 assists per game, he’s also still the only player in the NBA currently averaging a triple-double.

After the game, Jokic faced his standard line of questioning, which lately has included inquiries about MVP.

“How would you define what a Most Valuable Player is in the NBA,” a reporter asked.

His sheepish answer suggested it may have been the first time he’d ever been asked the question.

After he spent 10 seconds in silence pondering how to answer, Jokic mumbled something about “the best player,” and then something else about “the top scorer.”

“That’s a really good question,” Jokic said. “I really don’t know, for real.”

Not that he’d ever openly campaign for himself, but it’s a question he won’t be able to dodge for much longer.

On a night where Denver’s second unit sparked their win, it was unofficial team spokesman Monte Morris who vouched for Jokic’s credentials the loudest.

While in the weight room following a recent game, Morris had to get something off his chest.

“I just said, ‘Everybody talks about the Durants, the LeBrons, Giannises,’” Morris said. “’We’re playing with a Hall of Famer right here.’ I just wanted him to know that. … He don’t get a lot of credit, as he should, maybe because he’s not flashy with the dunks and things, but he produce just as much if not more than anybody in the NBA. I’m amazed every night.”

When told of that comment, Jokic smiled.

“It means a lot, just to have my back,” he said. “I know that they trust me.”

Jokic has given them every reason to believe in him. Faced with an underwhelming frontcourt in Oklahoma City, Jokic put his defenders Mike Muscala and Roby in a blender. His interior bludgeoning led to a 62-44 edge in the paint, which also included a 32-3 advantage on second-chance points.

“I locked him in my office one day and I beat him with a pillowcase filled with soda cans and said, ‘You gotta score more,’” Nuggets coach Michael Malone quipped. “You know how he is.”

The line was both ridiculous and informative. On one hand, Malone is clamoring for ways to describe what he’s seeing from his franchise player. On the other, his hyperbole was an indication of how much he trusts him. There’s nothing Malone needs to tell Jokic about how to dissect a defense. If a team shows double-teams, he’ll eagerly kick the ball out. If not, as he mercilessly showed the Thunder, it’s game over.

“It doesn’t matter what defense it is,” said Paul Millsap, who lauded Jokic’s intelligence.

But the best part about Jokic’s coming out party is that he’s taking his teammates with him. Not only do his dunks defibrillate Denver’s bench unit, his teammates are openly campaigning for his accolades.

Millsap sprung to Jokic’s defense when asked what’s behind his uptick in dunks this year.

“He works hard, man,” Millsap said. “He’s in the weight room every single day. … It’s like every other game, he adds an inch or two on his vertical. It’s unbelievable to watch. It’s great to watch a guy like that, a young guy, come to the gym every single day with his hard hat on, training and shooting. Even a guy that good still comes in and works every single day.”

And if Jokic is still searching for a true definition, perhaps Millsap gave him his answer.

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